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A Course of 'Confident Action'

"Clearly, there will be a strategic implication to a regime change in Iraq, if we go forward. But there's something beneath that, as far as I'm concerned -- and that is, there is immense suffering. Or North Korea. Let me talk about North Korea. I loathe Kim Jong II. I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people."

In Bush's view, Kim presents the U.S. with a clear and obvious choice. "They tell me, we don't need to move too fast [against Kim] because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if we try to -- if this guy were to topple. Who would take care of -- I just don't buy that. Either you believe in freedom, and want to -- and worry about the human condition, or you don't. I don't know if that gives you insight as to how I think."

"A president has got to be the calcium in the backbone," Bush told Bob Woodward. "If I weaken, the whole team weakens." (Eric Draper -- The White House)

Elaborating, he said that underlying his foreign policy "there is a value system that cannot be compromised, and that is the values that we praise. And if the values are good enough for our people, they ought to be good enough for others, not in a way to impose because these are God-given values. These aren't United States-created values. These are values of freedom and the human condition and mothers loving their children."

Yet simply proclaiming these values is not enough. "You can't talk your way to a solution to a problem," Bush said. "And the United States is in a unique position right now. We are the leader. And a leader must combine the ability to listen to others, along with action."

Any success the United States achieves on its own, Bush suggested, will strengthen its ability to build an international coalition, and he was dismissive of charges that the U.S. government acts unilaterally.

"If somebody wants to try to say something ugly about us, 'Bush is a unilateralist. America is unilateral.' You know, which I find amusing."

'The Vision Thing Matters'

Although Bush said a president deals with a myriad of tactical decisions and day-to-day battles, he sees his responsibilities as much larger. His father, President George H.W. Bush, derided with some regularity the notion of a "vision" or "vision thing." But his son made clear he disagrees.

"The job is -- the vision thing matters," Bush said. "That's another lesson I learned."

"See, I think my job is to stay ahead of the moment. A president, I guess, can get so bogged down in the moment that you're unable to be the strategic thinker that you're supposed to be, or at least provoke strategic thought. And I'm the kind of person that wants to make sure that all risk is assessed."

In commanding the war on terrorism, his aides have said Bush is a stickler for details on operational questions and tactics. But Bush sees his main role as constantly probing for signs of complacency and unclear thinking.

"I can only just go by my instincts," he said. "Listen, I am a product of the Vietnam world. There is a very fine line between micromanaging combat and setting the tactics" on one hand, and "to kind of make sure there is a sense of, not urgency, but sense of purpose and forward movement."

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, he said, he worried that the United States had lost its edge. "My job is to make sure that that blade is sharp."

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, just two weeks after the terrorist attacks, Bush surprised his war cabinet, which had been debating when to begin the bombing of targets in Afghanistan, by declaring: "Anybody doubt that we should start this Monday or Tuesday?"

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld eventually convinced Bush that planning was incomplete and the bombing should not begin for another week. Bush said he was intentionally prodding his aides.

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